UW-Whitewater professor James Levy is leading a new project, a podcast that explores tougher parts of land history, such as dispossession. 


Back in 2018 and 2019, “The Lands We Share” interactive exhibit shared with many across Wisconsin the culturally diverse histories in farming statewide.

UW-Whitewater history professor James Levy, the director of the exhibit that ran as part of the Wisconsin Farms Oral History Project, said the initiative was centered on starting conversations.

When that came to an end, he started to wonder how the lessons from it could continue. So Levy and others are creating “Whose Land?,” a podcast project Levy hopes to officially start in June.

But he shifted the focus a bit in what he called “phase 2.” “The Lands We Share,” as the title suggests, is more “warm and fuzzy,” in a way. The common history leads people to see what is common between them, he said.

And yet, there are harder conversations to be had when taking a full look at history. “Whose Land?” will focus on the histories of land taken and the people dispossessed by examining New York and Wisconsin.

“It’s really important. Tough, sticky, loaded, but really important to deal with head-on,” Levy said. “This theme of dispossession is really intense.”

Last week, the Whiting Foundation announced “Whose Land?” was a recipient of one of its $50,000 grants that supports public humanities projects, according to a letter shared with The Gazette.

Levy said the podcasts will deal with a “powerful set of issues” including climate change, land justice, housing and food sovereignty—all intertwined with race and ethnicity.

“Because it’s land dispossession, it centers on Black and Indigenous stories,” he said. “We’re not just telling the stories of people of color on the land. We really want to make this about dialogue.”

When expanding beyond Wisconsin, Levy picked New York because “at the heart of displacement of peoples on land is movement (and) migration.”

One example linking the two states is the Oneida Nation, which—in many cases involuntarily—came to Wisconsin from New York in the 19th century, he said.

The scope of the project looks at the urban and rural elements from both states—not just the stereotypes of rural Wisconsin and urban New York.

Levy saw the podcast format as a “great vehicle for getting stories out into the public.” Contrasted with the exhibits of “The Lands We Share,” he hopes to feature farmer or community activists in conversations with him or another scholar in a more direct medium.

He didn’t expect to get the $50,000 from the Whiting Foundation. He thought too much time had passed from when he was supposed to have heard about it and was surprised to learn he was one of the select few winners.

Levy said he has partnered closely with Stephen Kercher, a professor at UW-Oshkosh, and various groups such as the Oneida Nation, UW-Milwaukee and the Metcalfe Park Community Bridges group in Milwaukee.

Leading up to the planned June start date, Levy has been putting together four field teams in total for Wisconsin and New York. For the next six or seven months, they will be in the research phase, which includes oral histories and field work.

Production will take place in winter and spring 2022 with a goal of releasing episodes in fall 2022.


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